Main Point: The Spirit advances the gospel through Christians
Are y’all ready for Acts 13? Acts 13:4-12 is full of some crazy stuff. In these verses we see a magician, spiritual warfare, curses, and a conversion. It would be such a waste to think these things have nothing to do with our lives today. Instead, this passage teaches us that the Spirit of God advances the gospel through Christians. Acts 13 calls us to put on the armor of God and wrestle against error and for the salvation of souls. We need to learn to be missionaries by studying these missionaries. We need to learn to be wrestlers by studying these wrestlers. Let’s get into the fight. Read Acts 13:1-12
First, let’s unpack our
I. Missionary Principles (4-5)
- You are not your own
Look at Acts 13:2 and 4. Who is calling the shots for these Christians? The Holy Spirit is leading his people to accomplish his will. The Holy Spirit who gifts each individual Christian for the building up of the church is the Holy Spirit who calls out and sends out individuals to build up other churches. The leaders are not in charge, the church is not in charge, the Holy Spirit is the boss.
The ruling desire at work in Antioch and I pray at work in Mambrino is the desire to follow the Spirit and make much of Christ. Because we are Christians, we follow the Spirit and Christ is on our lips. In the realm of relationships, following the Spirit and making much of Christ means evangelism, discipleship, and church planting. In the realm of our bodies, how to follow the Spirit and make much of Christ is clarified in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20. Listen, “do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” Biblical evangelism and biblical sexuality call us to deny ourselves, pick up our crosses, and follow Jesus. Following Jesus entails seeing his glory so that we say no to the worldly things we want, give up the lives we would have, and endure the hatred of the world.
To put this in stark terms, you are not your own means you are owned by another. You were bought. Being bought means you were a slave of sin and self but Jesus paid for your release with the cost of his own life. Being bought means you belong to God, you are a child of God, gifted with the Holy Spirit to live for the glory and honor of Christ. You are not your own means you go where God says go and you do what God says do because God is good and trustworthy.
You are not your own may mean crucifying our way of doing family so we can become foster families for children in need. You are not your own may mean crucifying our way of spending money on ourselves so we can support more gospel work in closed countries. You are not your own may mean crucifying our way of doing church so we can plant other churches.
Christian, do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit? You are not your own. You were bought with a great price. Honor God with your body. For the missionary, for the disciple, this means
- Proclaim the Word of God
Paul and Barnabas left Antioch, went down to Seleucia on the Mediterranean coast, and sailed to Cyprus. Cyprus is an Island in the Mediterranean Sea. Cyprus is the Island where Barnabas was raised (Acts 4:36). Look at verse 5 with me, “When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews.” Look over at verse 7, “Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence, summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God.” Acts 13:16-41 is a summary of one of Paul’s messages. Acts 13:44, “the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord.” Acts 14:1, “Now at Iconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed.” 14:7, “they continued to preach the gospel.” Acts 14:21, “When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” This is no sight-seeing tour. This is a gospel-advancing disciple-making mission.
For us, this means talking about Jesus at school, at work, and in our neighborhoods. People don’t get saved because we do good works. People get saved because they hear the gospel, repent, and believe. Good works have a role to play, we will see that more in a minute. The point is that the gospel is a message that advances through words. Our second missionary principle is proclaim the word. Here is our last missionary principle and then we wrestle.
- Don’t go alone
Who does the Holy Spirit set apart and send out? The Spirit sent out Paul and Barnabas. Who did Paul and Barnabas take with them? Verse 5, they took John Mark with them to help; nowadays we call these guys interns. Up to this point in the book of Acts we have been following Peter. Even Peter gives us the example of not going alone. Peter always has some brothers with him. When Barnabas first gets to Antioch, he sees the need and goes to get Paul to help. The individual worker, like Philip in Acts 8, is rare.
Why is the common approach to missions a team approach? One answer is making disciples and planting churches is hard, lonely, often persecuted work. Having someone there to help preach, help cook meals, and help treat the wounds you can’t reach is a great help. Also, the principle of making disciples leads us to not go alone. How will the next generation of missionaries learn to be missionaries? They will learn by going with the older generation of missionaries. The command to make disciples leads us to not go alone when we go out to advance the gospel; teach others to do what you are doing.
Those are our missionary principles: remember you are not your own, proclaim the word of God, and don’t go alone. Now let’s learn how to wrestle by digging into this power encounter between Paul and Elymas.
II. A Power Encounter (6-12)
Here’s what we need to understand
- Evangelism is spiritual warfare
Evangelism is wrestling against error and blindness with the gospel message for the conversion of souls.
Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark are preaching their way across the Island of Cyprus. When they get to the capital, which is Paphos, they come across a magician, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus. Verse 8 tells us his other name is Elymas the magician. So, first this guy is a magi like Simon back in Acts 8. Remember Simon the magician wanted to pay Peter so Simon could have the power to give the Holy Spirit when he laid his hands on others. Like Simon the magician, Elymas the magician, is likely a fortune teller and star reader who Sergius Paulus keeps around to help him figure out what to do next. In my study, it came up that these magicians were often very intelligent and engaging in pseudo-science (Polhill, 293). These were the people with special metals, rocks, and magnets or their own secret knowledge of herbs and oils who could heal you or hurt your enemies for a price.
In addition to being a magician or sorcerer, Elymas was a Jewish false prophet. Being a Jew meant Elymas could claim ancient and powerful access to the God who throws down pharaohs and parts the sea. But just as Luke makes it clear Paul is acting by the Spirit, so also Luke makes it clear that Elymas is a Jewish false prophet. His name, Bar-Jesus, means son of Jesus or son of salvation. Get this: his name is Son of Salvation, he can read the stars, he can heal you, he can hurt your enemies, and he’s a Jew. This guy is the total package.
Elymas Bar-Jesus is with Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man. This word intelligent means he is able to understand, evaluate, and put stuff together. Though he has been duped by Elymas, Sergius Paulus is no fool.
Continuing in verse 7, “Sergius Paulus is the guy who summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God.” Maybe Paulus has an interest in theology. Maybe Paulus has a guilty conscience. Either way, he wants to hear the word of God.
Look now at verse 8, “But Elymas the magician (for that is the meaning of his name) opposed them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith.” Evangelism is spiritual warfare. Barnabas and Saul are proclaiming the truth so that Paulus can repent, believe, and be saved. Elymas is opposing them, seeking to discredit them, seeking to invalidate their claims, and seeking to turn Paulus away from the faith. This is 2 Corinthians 10:3-6 in real time:
For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and ever lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.”
The stronghold we wage war against in our schools, at work, and in our neighborhoods is spiritual blindness. Our neighbors cannot see the glory of Jesus and our neighbors do not want to see the glory of Jesus. Satan has blinded them (2 Cor 4:4) and they love the darkness (John 3:19). How will they change? We must wage war.
But how? How do we wage war? Do we fight with guns, swords, and fists? Convert or die! No, we fight with words. We fight with words in prayer to God to open eyes and make the word we share powerful to save. We fight with words seeking to explain the gospel and reveal the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. We fight with words as we challenge error and defend the truth.
Listen, our neighbors are not going to rest in Christ Jesus because we rake their leaves or bring them a meal. Our neighbors are going to be saved when alongside our good works comes a clear and winsome explanation of the gospel. Our neighbors are going to be saved when we call them to repent, believe, and worship Jesus. Evangelism is spiritual warfare so we must
- Fight against what opposes the gospel
Keep the image in your head. Paul and Barnabas preach the gospel while Elymas opposes the gospel. Now verse 9, “But Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, ‘You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord.” Again, there is a lot happening here.
We see the shift in Saul’s name to Paul. This is because of a shift from a Jewish situation where Saul was a common name to a Roman situation where Paul was a common name. As a Jew, a Hebrew of Hebrews, he used his Jewish name and as a Roman citizen he used his Roman name. He used whatever name was most appropriate for his situation. Paul’s name is minor, but the Holy Spirit is major.
Paul is filled by the Holy Spirit to perform the prophetic task of proclaiming God’s judgment. The Spirit empowers Paul to do the work. The Spirit empowers Paul to call Elymas what he truly is. Elymas is not a son of Jesus; Elymas is a son of the devil seeking to spread lies. Elymas is an enemy of all righteousness seeking to keep Paulus in sinful darkness. Elymas is full of deceit and villainy exploiting Paulus for money and position with tricks and lies. Elymas is making crooked the straight paths of the Lord.
Barnabas and Paul had laid down a straight and clear path to Jesus; Elymas was messing all this up. I can imagine Elymas telling Sergius Paulus, “You don’t want that. You don’t need Jesus. What they are saying isn’t true. The resurrection didn’t happen. You don’t need to repent. Stick with me. I’ll take care of you.”
Verse 11, here comes the prophetic judgment, “And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and unable to see the sun for a time. Immediately mist and darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand.”
Paul is acting as a Spirit-filled prophet; Paul is temporarily filled with the Spirit to perform this miraculous act. The Spirit of the Lord judged Elymas. It’s a temporary blindness similar to Saul’s blindness on the road to Damascus. Just as Saul hated and opposed the advance of the gospel so also Elymas hates and opposes the advance of the gospel. Just as Saul was blinded for a time, so now Elymas is blind for a time. The difference between the two is there is no record of Elymas repenting and being baptized. Unlike Simon Magus who pleaded with Peter for prayer to escape judgment, Elymas starts looking for help to endure judgment.
What should we do with this? Should we start calling down curses and passing out blindness? You should if you are a prophet and the Holy Spirit fills you with power and insight to perform such a miraculous judgment. Seeing that the office of prophet no longer exists I’m neither expecting nor commanding us to fight against what opposes the gospel by calling down curses and passing out blindness.
Instead, I am calling us to wrestle. I am calling us to wage war according to the Spirit. This is a call to take up the weapons of our warfare which are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. This is a call to destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God.
Let me ask it this way: why do people sin the sins they sin? Why do people believe the lies they believe? Why do people love the darkness and hate the light? There are several answers here, but we need to consider that people sin their sins, believe the lies, and hate the darkness because we won’t wrestle against the evil that enslaves them. We don’t wrestle with physical power, political power, or financial power. We don’t wrestle like Donald Trump or Joe Biden. We wrestle with prayer and we wrestle with sound doctrine.
Think of that neighbor, that coworker, or that family member that you have been fighting. What if we took out everything but your prayers and your correction of error with sound doctrine? Imagine a church that comes together to fight against error with prayer. Imagine a church that comes together to learn how to fight error with beautiful powerful truth. Church, we must not fight one another. Oh, but how much do we love to fight one another? How much do we love to complain about our rights and our honor? Let’s fight against the error and evil that opposes the gospel. Let’s fight with prayer and sound doctrine.
To state it positively, we are called to fight for the salvation of souls
- Fight for conversions
Look at Acts 13:12, “Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at Elymas’s blindness.” Wait, that’s not what it says. Look at verse 12, “Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.”
The glorious gospel astonished Sergius Paulus. This man heard about the glory and splendor of God. This man heard about the reality and danger of his sin. This man heard the invitation to come know the holy God through faith in the crucified and resurrection Jesus. Sergius Paulus was astonished at the teaching and he was convinced by the miracle.
What are the people around you hearing from you? What are the people around you seeing in you? When you are gaming, what do people hear from you? When you are in the halls at school and around the lunch table, what are people hearing and seeing from you? Are you wrestling for the world like the world? Or are you wrestling against error and for the joyous salvation of others?
Husbands, what would our wives say we wrestle for and against? Dads, what would our children say we wrestle for and against? I fear my wife and my children would say I wrestle for my own comfort and the things of the world. I go to work to wrestle for money. I do ministry wrestling for my reputation. Vanity of vanities and a chasing after the wind.
Acts 13:4-12, Ephesians 6:10-20; and 2 Corinthians 10:1-6 prove to us the danger of evil and sin; we must fight with prayer and sound doctrine. Acts, Ephesians, and 2 Corinthians call out to us to seek the salvation of our neighbors by fighting in prayer and with clear explanations of all that Jesus is and has done.
Here now is how I think you could respond. First, if you are like Sergius Paulus, caught up in sin and darkness, today is the day to repent and believe. The righteous life, atoning death, and victorious resurrection of Jesus will give you a clean conscience and access to God. Change your thinking about Jesus, rest in Jesus, and worship Jesus. Jesus will take you in. Second, if you are a Christian you must remember whose you are. You were bought with the price of Jesus. Honor him with your body and go where the Spirit leads you; remember you are not your own. Third, confess the sin of fighting the wrong battles. Let us confess our pride and our selfishness that have led us to bite and devour one another. Fourth, let’s think and pray about the error and the evil that is blinding our children and our neighbors. Remember, we were once blind like them, but someone came to us with the powerful gospel of Christ. Holy Spirit show us all that opposes the gospel so that we can oppose it with the gospel. And finally, let’s spend time praying for the salvation of souls. Who is it that is trapped in sin? Maybe it is a child, maybe it is a parent, maybe it is a neighbor, maybe it is a coworker, or maybe it is you. Let’s devote ourselves right now to fighting-prayer and may the Holy Spirit fill us with love and boldness to go tear down strongholds and set captives free. Let’s start praying and let’s persevere in prayer.